I got a phone call from my father on a Tuesday morning last month. I had just awoken the day after my birthday. A late night at Fells Point drinking was a ten-hour-old memory. I had just seen my father the night before. I had had dinner with him and my mother, probably for the first time since they'd seperarted three and a half years ago. We had had Japanese food in Lutherville, where the chef cooks in front of you and flips shrimp on your plate.
On the phone, he asked me if I got The Sunpaper. I told him I did. "Did you read the Olesker column?" he asked.
"No, I just woke up."
"It's about Howard Golden. He died."
I didn't say anything. My father continued speaking. "I started reading it and about half way through it, it said he died and I just started screaming."
I was already downstairs, opening the paper, finding the Maryland section.
I saw Olesker's beard, his hands in his pockets under an article titled, "Awful wait ends, as time runs out for Little Giant.
My dad was still talking. "He was such a nice man."
I reminisced with my father for a while about Howard before hanging up and going to take a shower to get ready for work.
As water hit my face, tears escaped from my eyes which I quickly let the water clean off.
I dried off and went to work.
I hadn't seen Howard Golden in eight years. His son Joey and I grew up together, having met in second grade at Mount Washington Elementary School. Joey was the first kid I knew whose parents were divorced. He would split time between his mom's house in Pikesville and then later Randallstown and his father's apartment in Northwest Baltimore. Joey loved his father maybe more than any person I ever met to this day.
And I loved him too. I was there every Sunday, starting in 1984, months after the Colts ran away in the middle of the night. It was from Howard that I acquired a love for football.
My father also liked sports but was not so much a football fan anymore, saying it was too violent. Howard would speak romantically about Johnny Unitas, Bubba Smith, Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry. He said that when we was a boy, every kid in town followed the Colts religiously.
He told me how he'd had a plan for Joey when he was a kid. He figured he would be small like him--as Michael Olesker calls him, the Little Giant was only about 5'6" and 135 pounds, about the same size as I, and probably his son, still are. (Joey and I were always the smallest kids in our class.)
Anticipating a size problem, Howard figured Joey's best chance at entering the National Football League would be as a place kicker. He said he was going to set up a mock field goal in Joey's crib so that from the beginning, he was looking throught the uprights. Then when he was old enough to start walking, he'd start kicking. Luckily, Joey's mom wouldn't allow him to carry out his plan.
But every Sunday, Howard, Joey, and I would watch football. With the Colts gone, Joey rooted for Miami because Howard's parents lived in Florida. I rooted for the Patriots because my dad was from Massachusetts. But, that first year, with Channel Two broadcasting all the games from Indianapolis, we rooted against the Colts with a passion.
The only time I ever remember Howard cursing was with regards to Bob Irsay, the man who moved his beloved Colts away from him and made his son root for the Dolphins. But with time, he rooted for the Dolphins too, because Joey did. Then, eventually, he also rooted for New England because I did.
While watching football, my little sister played with Joey's little sister--Sarah and Sara.
Barbie dolls, My Little Ponys, Strawberry Shortcake, whatever was the new toy, they had it at Howard's house. While he introduced us to fifties football, he would play fifties rock songs and bubble gum music for his young daughter.
"Sara, you would have liked the fifties," he explained to her. Howard loved the fifties because he was a kid then. In fact, he never really grew up.
While my dad was experimenting with zucchini dishes, Howard had Pizza Hut and McDonalds every night. He always bragged about his famous spaghetti sauce, which was really Giant-brand.
He still watched football.
He didn't clean his house or car that much.
He did crossword puzzles.
He'd play football with us.
He'd look really closely at Joey's baseball cards, take him to baseball card shows, and suggest trades.
He took us to a WWF wrestling match at the Civic Center and he knew as many as the wrestlers as we did. He especially liked George "The Animal" Steele, who ate the the stuffing out of the turnbuckles.
When Joey and I got a little older, I would go with them to Ocean City the last week before school started. I never went "down da ocean" as a kid, my dad preferring the beaches of Cape Cod Bay. The last time I went with Joey, I was thirteen and I met a girl.
Joey and I were flipping baseball cards in our room, trying to remain children as long as we could, when a beautiful, tall, tan girl in a bikini started riding the waves on a boogie board.
Joey and I stared at her, debating her age, deciding on sixteen.
The next day, sitting on the beach, I made a casual remark to Joey about the girl as she ran past. Little Sara, who was now nine years old, heard me and started running towards the girl.
I couldn't believe it.
I read lips as Sara mouthed the unmistakeable words to my dream girl, "He likes you." Then the two of them started walking towards me and she introduced herself as Lina, from Rockville.
I was nervous as I'd ever been. She was thirteen but was about a foot taller than me and at the time I thought she could have passed for a supermodel.
We walked together alone on the beach and back then that was the greatest thing in the world. I spent the next few days with Lina. We walked the Boardwalk and ate French fries.
She told me how she followed the Grateful Dead around with her mom. I thought this was weird, since my dad listened to the Dead, but sure enough, when I got home, I put aside my Public Enemy tapes and listened to my dad's scratchy records of "Sugaree" and "Truckin'."
Later in the week, Howard approached me while I was standing alone on the deck looking at the waves. He said, "Jess, I know everyone's been giving you a hard time with the whole boy-girl thing, but I think Lina seems like a really good kid. Did you know she goes to a school where they only speak French?"
"I mean it's good to see," He continued. "I know I used to be the scared kid. Back in the fifties. But you'll remember this forever. I really like her, though. I mean, she thinks my Elton John tapes are cool."
"I guess what I'm trying to say is, I'm happy for you."
And with that, he patted me on the back, sat down, smiled, all thick glasses and walrus-moustache and smoked a cigar.
I didn't know that much about Howard's professional career. I knew he worked for the Baltimore City Orphan's Court.
I knew every few years he'd ride around in his Dodge station wagon with campaign stickers and signs.
And I know he'd always win the election.
I know that always made Joey really proud.
But I imagine he was a great judge and he really cared about children, as almost every sentence in that Olesker article said.
I imagine it was because he never lost the kid in him.
He always ate the sugar side of the shredded wheat cereal.
Olesker called him the "Little Giant," but I think he was more like a Big Kid.
Copyright © 2003 The Baltimore Chronicle and The Sentinel. All rights reserved. We invite your comments, criticisms and suggestions.
Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.
This story was published on August 2, 2000.